Museo delle Marionette

Incredible Masks from Bolivia

Pinocchio and Gepetto may have been from Florence, but the romantic image of a kindly, old man carving a puppet from wood is a distinctly Sicilian one. The art of puppet theater, or the Opera dei Puppi, has especially deep roots in Palermo.

The glory days of puppet theater have long since passed, obsoleted by more modern entertainment options like TV and movies. But Palermo is one of the few places that you can still catch a show, with a few family-run theaters continuing the tradition. Before we went to a performance, though, we visited the Museo delle Marionette to learn a bit more about the art form.

In 2001, UNESCO added Sicilian Puppet Theater to its list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Sicilian performances are usually centered around knights and princesses, dragons and Christianity. Epic Norman ballads like The Song of Roland provide much of the material for the island’s puppeteers, who inject a fair amount of humor in their performances and invent dialogue on the fly.

The museum focuses on Sicilian puppets, but also has a large collection from around the world. From Mali and Niger, to Japan and Thailand. Vietnamese water puppets and French marionettes. The descriptions are all in Italian, but that hardly detracts from the experience.

A visit to the museum doesn’t require more than a half hour, and provides an excellent look into the tradition of puppetry. We had fun here, though I was vaguely creeped out by the rooms full of motionless puppets, who seemed to be following me with their vacant, malicious eyes. Watching Puppet Master the previous night probably wasn’t the best idea.

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette – Website

Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualino 5

Location on our Palermo Map

Tel: 091328060

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Hi Mike,
    Sounds like an interesting side attraction from the hustle and bustle of Palermo. I know kids love puppets but some of these might give them nightmares. I’ve added the link to the Travel Bloggers Guide To The World I’m developing.

    Regards, Si

  2. WanderingVoyager

    I loved this museum!  It was so interesting learning about the difference in puppetry styles between Palermo and Catania.  Great pictures.  

  3. Christopher

    SOOOO with you on the creepiness factor. I have a virulent imagination at the best of times, and would not be able to hang out here for long.Plus, there’s the dude with the face on his belly. If that doesn’t make you rethink who’s in charge, I don’t know what will.Cheers!-christopher

  4. Bill

    Over 30 years ago (1980) I was 15 and in Palermo with my parents, and we went to a marionette show.  I’ve travelled extensively since, and that evening remains one of my most vivid memories.  The marionettes were suprisingly large, superbly crafted, and expertly handled.  You didn’t need to understand a word of Italian (or Sicilian dialect) to understand the plot, which consisted of knights and saracens whacking away at each other to defend assorted damsels in distress.  The audience, which was truly all ages, roared with approval, hissed at villains, and was fully part of the fun.  As the world grows increasingly homogeneous, I value truly local folk cultural expression more and more.  These Sicilian marionettes will forever be near the top of my list.  I doubt a museum would convey the same effect as a performance, but it is a good place to start. 

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